A First for the Field of Sign Language Research

By Headrick-Hall, Emily | American Annals of the Deaf, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

A First for the Field of Sign Language Research


Headrick-Hall, Emily, American Annals of the Deaf


A First for the Field of Sign Language Research Research Methods in Sign Language Studies: A Practical Guide. Eleni Orfanidou, Bencie Woll, & Gary Morgan (Eds.). John Wiley & Sons, 2015. 384 pages. $35.99 (e-book), $44.95 (paperback), $99.95 (hardcover).

Enactment of the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 bolstered education research by leading to the establishment of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). One of the rationales for the founding of the IES was to support the quality and integrity of education research. The What Works Clearinghouse, a department within the IES, evaluates instructional programs and practices as well as education policies and research. One reason such institutions are needed is the too common practice of education researchers making causal conclusions based on nonmanipulated correlational studies (Robinson, Levin, Thomas, Pituch, & Vaughn, 2007). Researchers must be clear about the potential implications of their data because their findings should inform instruction. Education researchers, particularly inexperienced researchers, need guidance and guidelines for conducting and reporting research clearly and accurately because their findings affect classroom practices.

Research handbooks are one highly useful tool for researchers, and editors Eleni Orfanidou, Bencie Woll, and Gary Morgan (and nearly 40 contributing authors) have recently provided the field of sign language research with its first: Research Methods in Sign Language Studies: A Practical Guide. Although the editors are neither explicitly seeking to address the need for clearer standards of research in this book nor directly gearing it toward education researchers, this volume serves both objectives. By providing summaries of the methodologies in sign language research in addition to instruction regarding social, linguistic, psycholinguistic, and neurolinguistic research and signed languages, the book provides guidelines on how research is being conducted in the field of sign language research that should be used to inform future research. Additionally, the field of deaf education research does not have a handbook on conducting research. Certainly, this text cannot serve as a comprehensive handbook for deaf education researchers-nor was it intended to. However, deaf education researchers do conduct sign language research to learn about language development and language usage of Deaf individuals, often focusing on preschool or school-age participants. Therefore, this book has the potential to serve a wide range of researchers.

The book is divided into five parts. Part I calls attention to ethical issues relevant to sign language research. These ethical issues include implementing research methods that are Deaf-friendly by viewing members of the Deaf community as gatekeepers and offering consent forms that have been translated into participants' native signed language. Guidelines are offered on upholding ethical considerations for participants in developing countries in the same way researchers would in developed countries. Part I concludes with a discussion of good practices in field research. These include involving the Deaf community in the research; learning sign language, as well as the culture and customs of the participants; and sharing the findings through signed videos on Deaf-friendly websites or by some other means preferred by the target community.

Part II focuses on methods for collecting sign language data. The authors highlight the complications of collecting data and offer sage advice, such as the best angles from which to set up video cameras for conducting interviews using a sign language-knowledge that would otherwise only be acquired through experience. There are also discussions of different methods for transcribing, analyzing, and measuring the data. In regard to transcribing, the authors discuss a multitude of methods, including glossing, phonetic transcription, Stokoe notation, and the Berkeley Transcription System. …

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